What is anxiety and when does it become a problem?
Anxiety is the feeling of nervousness or unease you feel in the event of impending danger. Everyone feels anxious at some point because it’s the body’s natural reaction to an environmental stressor, like having to write a test or worrying about a problem. Anxiety is your built-in defence mechanism that is needed for your survival and self-preservation.
Imagine if you were driving on the highway and saw a car weaving recklessly on the road. You might become anxious and take corrective action, like pulling away from this vehicle or stopping your car. You may just have avoided an accident thanks to your anxious nature.
Anxiety becomes problematic, however, when the nervousness and unease become completely overwhelming, serve no redeeming purpose and begin to negatively affect your daily life.
Symptoms of intense anxiety
Those suffering from heightened anxiety may experience some, or a combination, of the following symptoms which tend to persist for at least six months:
- Intrusive and distressing thoughts
- Feelings of dread, apprehension and fear
- Agitation or irritability
- Inability to concentrate
- Sleep disturbances, like insomnia
- Fatigue or weakness
- Rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath
- Muscle cramps or stomach complaints
- Cold and sweaty hands or feet
- Nausea, vomiting or dizziness
Anxiety disorders explained
Anxiety disorder is an umbrella phrase used to describe a group of disorders characterised by intense and excessive anxiety that sufferers cannot control. There are various types of anxiety disorders, which include:
1. Panic disorder, which is the tendency to experience heightened fear and discomfort with symptoms resembling a heart attack. These can last for up to 30 minutes.
2. Phobias, an unrealistic and excessive fear about a non-threatening place, person, event or object like agoraphobia, which is the fear of open spaces rendering the sufferer homebound for fear of venturing out.
3. Social anxiety disorder, the extreme concern, and subsequent embarrassment, that you are being judged negatively by others in a social situation. The sufferer then goes out of their way to avoid social interactions.
4. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is the tendency to have recurring, distressing thoughts that force the sufferer to perform specific and repeated behaviour.
5. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the overwhelming and debilitating anxiety a person experiences following a traumatic event, like a house-breaking.
6. Generalised anxiety disorder, is where a person is plagued by constant worry and tension about everyday routines and issues that is not in proportion to their actual circumstances.
Who is at risk for high anxiety?
People experience anxiety differently based on their personality. While some may panic in a certain situation, others may revel in the highly charged circumstances. The following factors may increase your risk of experiencing anxiety negatively or of developing an anxiety disorder if left untreated:
- Trauma, like abuse or a frightening event, especially during childhood, can predispose one to being anxious
- Illness-related stress, where a person endures the conditions of a chronic or serious illness like cancer, diabetes or arthritis, can cause extreme anxiety
- Mental health issues, like having depression, can often result in an anxious nature
- Personality or hereditary factors, like having an excessive amount of the stress hormone, cortisol, could increase your risk factor if you are naturally anxious
- Substance abuse anxiety, as those misusing or suffering from the withdrawal of alcohol or drugs feel extremely anxious
Get your anxiety under control
You can learn to manage your anxiety so that it doesn’t become problematic with these healthy lifestyle habits:
- There is a direct link between mental health and the quality of food you eat. Take a look at Foods that Can Help Beat Depression, which explains the importance of, and outlines, a healthy diet
- Stop smoking as studies show that nicotine can cause or increase anxiety symptoms
- Exercise regularly as it improves your mood by increasing the production of hormones, like serotonin and endorphins, which can relieve stress and anxiety
- Getting enough quality sleep, which is essential for emotional well-being. A good quality sleep cycle helps you to relax and recharge
- Seek professional help when necessary, like consulting a mental health care professional who may prescribe medication or counselling, or a combination of both, to help you deal with your anxiety
Anxiety is a normal reaction that everyone experiences in certain circumstances. It keeps us alert and on our toes. However, anxiety can become problematic when not managed properly and could even develop into an anxiety disorder. At Topmed, we encourage good mental health, so keep your anxiety under control with our tips. Get in touch today to sign up for cover for yourself and your family.
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